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McCain on Fat Kids: "One of the Most Alarming Statistics"

If you watched last night's final US Presidential Debate, you probably noticed that Senator John McCain was the first of the two candidates to call out fat publicly in some fashion. Here's a complete transcript. He said:

The rise of obesity amongst young Americans is one of the most alarming statistics that there is. We should have physical fitness programs and nutrition programs in schools. Every parent should know what's going on there.

Yeah, not so much, McCain. From a Junkfood Science post back in May:

The latest statistics on childhood overweight from the National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. They show that since the childhood growth charts were redesigned nearly a decade ago, there have been no statistically significant change in the percentages of young people at or above the 95th percentile (labeled as “overweight” and some are now calling “obese”).

Redesigning charts'll do that for ya!

McCain also called for "rewarding" people who joined wellness programs and health clubs. Wellness, as regular readers know, is just the new codeword for "not fat." This is a horrible, horrible idea.

To be totally fair, though, "prevention" of fat is covered explicitly in Senator Barack Obama's health care plan:

The nation faces epidemics of obesity and chronic diseases as well as new threats of pandemic flu and bioterrorism.

An increasing number of Americans are suffering and dying needlessly from diseases such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, asthma and HIV/AIDS, all of which can be delayed in onset if not prevented entirely.

On fat kids, the Obama-Biden plan says:

Childhood obesity is nearly epidemic, particularly among minority populations, and school systems can play an important role in tackling this issue.

Nearly epidemic is notable here; there's a difference. But it's still wrong. It references this 5-year-old NIH piece, geared towards "preventing" fat versus actually backing it up with facts. (In addition, the NIH is the organization that redefined the BMI ten years ago; disappointing because they do some good work.)

The plan also references a 2006 CDC report on fat. Too bad it, too, was debunked by the CDC itself:

As JFS has posted repeatedly, back in 2004, in the June issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, the CDC had reported that there had been no significant increases in the numbers of U.S. adults or children considered “overweight” or “obese” from 1999-2000 through 2001-2002.

Sorry, Barack. While I give you points for not calling it an epidemic outright, and not namechecking it in order to scare the crap out of people, the argument is still a house of cards.

(Cross-posted to Open Salon.)

Must Read: The Fat Monologue | Surprisingly Insightful Piece on Jossip

eliza October 16th, 2008 | Link | As far as I remember, there

As far as I remember, there used to be physical fitness programs in schools. Aren't those among the first on the chopping block, once it comes time to cut funding?

Oh yeah, there were still fat kids.

paul October 16th, 2008 | Link | If there's a spending freeze

If there's a spending freeze on it, sure, it's likely to not get funding.

darbycrash's picture
October 17th, 2008 | Link | chopping block

I thought it was music and art programs first, then phys ed.

Bree's picture
October 16th, 2008 | Link | Unfortunately, despite solid

Unfortunately, despite solid evidence that shows the US has no real obesity epidemic, it's not what the majority wants to hear, and the political world knows that they can get money and glowing press for creating plans to fix "broken fat kids and adults." We'll probably never have fat-friendly politicians, even if they're fat themselves.

Fat is the popular topic right now when people want to wag the dog away from more critical concerns facing our country and our world. Because once you get people started talking about it, they don't want to shut up. Look at any site that allows comments---fat hysteria will always have the most. People can't wait to spew their ill-will towards those who are big.

While McCain and Obama have a lot to be educated on when it comes to fat, at least it's not Mike Huckabee debating, because his attitude towards fat people can fill up the whole Fat Hate Bingo card. His health plan would probably include mandatory WLS for anyone considered overweight or obese.

levye October 16th, 2008 | Link | good post

Glad you pointed out that Obama continues to place prevention as central to his healthcare plan and that prevention in his case most certainly means a "war against obesity." Even taking what he said last night, he not only claimed that prevention would be central to his cost saving, but he further mentioned the need to "prevent heart disease and diabetes." We all know what that means. It's the old saw about "obesity" causing these diseases.

People might be interested to know that an association called the "Obesity Society" had two conferences that they coordinated with the Republican and Democratic Convention with the express purpose of having both include obesity on their platform. They are congratulating themselves because for the first time ever the Democrats listed obesity as one of the threats that needed to be "prevented" and combatted in order to save money in healhcare. (The Republicans chose not to, nor did McCain send a representative, as Obama did, to speak to the organization.) To learn more about the Obesity Association's efforts, see . The Democratic Platform, like the Republican one, is easily found.

richie79's picture
October 16th, 2008 | Link | I watched bits of the

I watched bits of the presidential debate, but given that it was aired live at 2am here I think I drifted off round about the time they started attacking one another's associates (and alleged associates) instead of debating policy. As I said on Big Fat Deal, I get the impression that Barack Obama is simply parroting the accepted establishment line on obesity without having really thought about the topic too deeply. It's not something most people tend to question; they just delegate the responsibility of taking a position on the issue to those who claim expertise. In Obama's case, that will be his advisers, the media, single-issue medical industry pressure groups such as the Obesity Society*, along with the 'concerns' of party activists and members of the public that communicate with him, whilst FA is too small to even register.

I share levye's concerns that nowadays 'public health promotion' tends to serve as shorthand for getting tough with fat people. With the level of prejudice amongst the electorate right now, proposals for anti-fat measures are sure-fire (if lazy) vote winners. As a UK citizen I'm ineligible, but I've said before that were I voting purely on the fat rights issue, I'd probably spoil my ballot paper, as nothing short of a pure FA candidate would really satisfy on that score, and I think it will be some years, if ever, before any mainstream politician comes out and actively defends not just the right to but the desirability of diversity of body shape.

However on balance I personally believe that Obama offers a genuine opportunity for wider change whereas McCain represents more of the same Washington cronyism, preoccupation with vested interests and cynical disregard for democracy of which I suspect even some Republicans are beginning to tire. And I think the FA movement has a better chance of trying to convince Obama - who seems to genuinely believe in social justice even if some of his solutions are immensely misguided - why he should leave fat folk alone than everyone else has of persuading McCain to properly address the problems with healthcare, foreign policy, immigration, energy supply issues and all the rest, even if (as is likely) there turns out to be little bite behind his barking about fat people. As Bree points out, there are much bigger threats to our way of life right now than fat.

*On a side note, I do wish these fat-hating orgs would stop co-opting FA language, such as the Obesity Society's piece about 'weight stigma' whose solution to said discrimination turns out to be 'lose weight now'.

"if you think fat people have no self-discipline, consider the fact that they haven’t killed you yet." - Miss Conduct, Boston Globe

rachelr's picture
October 16th, 2008 | Link | I know the New York Times

I know the New York Times isn't John McCain's favorite news publication (even though Palin surely reads it, as she reads "all of them), but you'd think the tax-cutting, spend-less-happy McCain would pay more attention to stories like this one, especially since it claims that so-called prevention programs only succeed in raising costs and diagnoses in people who would otherwise not become sick.

As for the candidates, it's true that neither of them are HAES-friendly. Still, Obama's character and proven willingness to listen and consider alternate viewpoints leads me to believe that he might be persuadable if given a chance. Not to mention, his plan won't result in the pricing out of uninsured and insured fat people of health insurance policies.

levye October 16th, 2008 | Link | first-time

I just wanted to reiterate that under Obama's campaign's influence, "obesity" was added to the Democratic Platform for the first time ever as something that needed to be addressed in order to keep the costs of healthcare down. There's an anti-obesity constituency out there that he is addressing when he does this. Certainly, he is choosing to focus on this much more than pharmaceutical company profits or HMO CEO profits. I don't think the introduction of this in the platform -- something the Republicans didn't, after all, do -- is a minor detail.

Moody Blue's picture
Moody Blue
October 21st, 2008 | Link | Years and years ago, I

Years and years ago, I understood the term "obese" to mean 100lbs or more overweight. Now, if your child carries an extra 10 or 15 pounds more than the "norm", why is that being called obese? Also, I happen to live in an area where there are low to moderate income families. On my way to work, I sometimes get caught at a nearby school while the busses leave to take the kids home. I do see a chubby child every now and again, but MOST of the kids are not chubby. I'm sure this school would adequately represent a microcosm of all the schools in my area. So, how do they justify using the word "epidemic"?? It's just not true, dammit!!

chondros October 22nd, 2008 | Link | Moody, your first question

Moody, your first question answers your second: basically average-sized people are being called "obese" to justify the idea of an "obesity epidemic." The idea of the obesity epidemic then becomes a justification for discrimination against (actual) fat people.

It's actually an old way of attacking a minority, a way of getting around the objection that a disliked group is too small to bother hating or fearing. Exaggerate numbers and influence, magnify the danger, and discrimination starts to seem more reasonable.

Levye, I actually hadn't known that obesity had made it into a major party platform this year. It doesn't surprise me, but it's pretty depressing. Now it will probably become boilerplate, written into the platform for years to come. And you can bet when the platform for the other major party is next revised, people on the committees will be asking, "Should we put in language about obesity?" I like to think that there might be disagreement about that, but I doubt there will be much disagreement about what such language should consist of.

chondros October 22nd, 2008 | Link | BTW (and not to get too

BTW (and not to get too off-topic), here's a particularly annoying example of the impulse to mix weight prejudice and politics, while giving the whole thing the imprimatur of science.

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